By Lord Ashcroft
This article was first published in the Mail on Sunday.
After 13 years of Conservative government, things were not supposed to look like this. Strikes, inflation, record NHS waiting lists, a sluggish economy and apparently uncontrollable migration point to a country where things are going wrong. Covid and Ukraine sound increasingly like excuses, not explanations.
But people sense more than an administration running out of steam after a bruising stint in office. I found more than seven in ten agreeing that Britain is broken and needs big changes, whichever party is in charge.
Political and economic sages debate how to boost the dismal rates of productivity that hold the country back compared to its more prosperous peers. For many Conservative thinkers, pondering the party’s direction in a new term of government (or, as many expect, in opposition), the problem is the state itself. Recent Tory governments – prompted by Covid and a desire to show suspicious voters that austerity was over – have spent, taxed and borrowed at a rate that would have made Gordon Brown blush; these critics argue that government has grown too big, tries to do too much, and so imposes an excessive burden on business, workers and families.
There is a lot to be said for this view: allowing governments to consume ever more of our national income is a recipe for economic and social decline. But as Mrs. Thatcher’s Tories understood in 1979, any attempt to reverse the trend has to start not with economic theory, but with people (more…)